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Textbooks are a ripoff

Cell phone, car, car insurance, food, gas, tuition, and textbooks…do the list of bills and spending ever end?  For the average college student, this is where all their (or mommy and daddy’s) money goes to.  But let’s get down to it; we can try to not talk on our cell phones only so much, car payments and car insurance is inevitable once you leave the dealership, food- you got to eat, gas- you can’t control the gas prices, economy or what’s going on in the middle east, tuition- you know what you are getting into as soon as you accept your acceptance into the University, but textbooks however, maybe something can be done about that.  Maybe the load of spending can be lifted off the college student’s shoulders just a bit.  The price of textbooks at the University of California, Riverside, and probable at many other universities, are overly priced.  To reduce the cost of college textbooks, new editions should not come out so often, subsidies should be placed on the textbooks, or digital textbooks should be manufactured instead of hard copy books.

            According to the Highlander Editorial Board, the 2005 report, Ripoff 101, reported that textbooks on average cost students “$900 a year, about one fifth of their fees,” and that $1600 is “spent each year by UCR students for books and supplies,” alone.  The Highlander Editorial Board goes on to say that being a multibillion dollar industry, the publishing of college textbooks has created “earning net sales of $2.7 billion in 2003.”  Furthermore, the bookstores increase the original price of the textbooks 34%.  In a joking, but true voice, a friend of mine was talking about the stock market and how if he were to ever invest into stocks, he would choose the textbook market, because it would never fall;  as long as there are colleges, people will need to buy textbooks.  And of course, students have no choice but to purchase the books needed for their classes.  Sure they could find something like Mark Twain at the nearest bookstore such as Barnes n’ Noble, but as far as textbooks go, they may only be found at the University’s own bookstore.  To add to the frustration, instructors may require students to buy certain books, and they come to find that they are packaged with other material that may never be used in class, but to get the needed textbook, they have to buy the unwanted material as well.  In Sean Redmond’s article in The Highlander, he reports that “More than 65% of the faculty members surveyed…say they ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ use the bundled materials in their courses.” 

            And what is with bringing out new editions so often? It seems like every year a new edition is brought out of college textbooks.  For example, this year I am using Silberberg, Chemistry, 4th Ed. (McGraw-Hill) 2006, and just last year a few of my friends were using the third edition.   My friends, who are a year ahead of me, all have taken the same classes as I am now taking or will be taking, but I could not rely on them, nor will I be able to rely on them, to borrow their old textbooks, because the ones I am required to use are new editions!  So now I am in the hole about $300 that I could have saved from the convenience of having friends that would have just lent me their books, for two of my classes.   And get this, Redmond reports in his research that “In addition,..publishers then increase the price of a new textbook edition by an average of 12%, or twice the rate of inflation.”  That is just ridiculous; which is why I say stretch out how many years until the next new edition is brought out.  “Over half of the faculty interviewed said that the new editions they use are ‘rarely to never’ justified.” (Redmond).  The Highlander Editorial Board also suggests that “New information needing to be added to a textbook maybe be done so with supplement materials instead of the publication of an entirely new edition.”

So when they do bring out new editions, there is not even much of a change to it?  This just proves how much students are being ripped-off.          

So other than a solution to reducing spending, how about a solution to affect the direct price on the textbook itself? (Meaning the sticker prices, rather than reducing how often or much a student has to spend).  The government could implement subsidies as a solution.  Students would not have to pay so much on one text book.  By creating subsidies, a certain amount of tax payer’s money would go into paying for books.  Subsidies could be paid for by bond measures.  So, the state sells bonds, citizens buy them, and then the state uses the bond money to subsidize text book prices and then the tax payers will have to worry about the interest on the bonds.  Also, students or parents, could gather up all their receipts at the end of the year, and then write them off as tax-writable. 

            What if the idea of textbooks was scratched for the most part?  Instead of hard-copy textbooks, publishers could manufacture digital textbooks instead.  Reducing textbooks to CD’s would mean that publishers, thus students, do not have to pay for paper, ink, etc.  The price for a writable CD at the UCR bookstore is eighty-nine cents.  So, the costs of an actual hard-copy textbook is taken out and put onto an eighty-nine cent CD.  Prices would be for sure reduced.  Now, some might argue, well what if not everyone has a computer?  Well at the University of California, Riverside, everyone has access to a computer somehow.  It is required that iLearn or Webmail be checked daily, and with similar implementations, the use of digital textbooks should not be a problem.  And if students do need to bring text material to class and they do not have a laptop, then they could simply print out the material they need ahead of time.  This would still be cheaper than buying an overly priced hard copy textbook.  At the Printing and Reprographics store, located right next store to the UCR Bookstore, it costs less than a nickel a page to print out what you need.  Not to mention it would also be a lighter load on your back, literally too.

            When I read that an 870-page hardcover book of the fifth Harry Potter book was only $30.00 compared to a 200-page Calculus 10A book for $120.00, it made me realize just how ridiculously textbooks are inflated.  Some people struggle just to pay for tuition, and every dollar counts.  Sure loans and FAFSA may cover parts of tuition, but textbooks are not really covered.  So every student is pretty much stuck with paying outrageous prices that could be avoided.  The government should offer help with solutions such as subsidies in supporting students of California, let alone America.    Although elementary through high school is covered by the government and taxes and such, and even though college is by choice, higher-learning should and could be encouraged more.  And a lot of the times money stand in the way of that and starting somewhere such as reducing the prices of textbooks could really help out.  New editions so often really are not necessary, and it could really save students a lot of money, whether through borrowing or by actually having used textbooks available to buy.  Digital textbooks could really lighten the load off a student’s shoulders, both literally and financially.  So when it comes down to it, textbook prices should be on the lower list of spending, not at the high point that it is now.

  1. Baffe
    July 19, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Your post is 4 years old and as true as ever. Silberberg has pumped out yet another edition. This time 5E. The changes are minor: mostly new exercises. Insult to injury because if you want the solutions manual that’s even more. Colleges could join to do their own textbooks but then they’d get the wrath of the publishing companies and loose their own lucrative cut from the college bookshops. What a ripoff.

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